The government of England and Wales has officially criminalized the possession of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas. This decision comes in response to a surge in its use, particularly among individuals aged 16 to 24, during the recent epidemic. The ban is part of the government's broader strategy to address anti-social behavior.
Dangers of Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide, a colorless gas often referred to as "laughing gas," has been abused for its psychoactive effects, leading to a surge in misuse, particularly during the recent epidemic. While it induces brief euphoria, it poses significant risks to the nervous system. Initial signs of neurological damage include tingling in the hands and feet, numbness, skin crawling, and, in severe cases, issues like uncoordinated walking and muscle stiffness. Though headaches, anxiety, and paranoia are common side effects, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, in its 2023 review, concluded that the overall harm did not warrant control. According to government reports, between 2001 and 2020, nitrous oxide was mentioned on the death certificate in 56 deaths in England and Wales, including 45 deaths that occurred since 2010.
Nitrous Oxide Uses: Beyond Recreation
Nitrous oxide is widely utilized in dentistry and medicine as a pain reliever. Termed "gas and air" when combined with oxygen, it serves to alleviate labor discomfort. Additionally, it finds industrial applications, such as in the production of whipped cream.
Legal Changes: Nitrous Oxide Now a Class C Drug
Until November 8, 2023, nitrous oxide was governed by the Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016. While the production, supply, import, and export of nitrous oxide for intoxicating effects were already prohibited, mere possession was legal. The UK Government has now amended the law, classifying nitrous oxide as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Impact of the Ban: Ramifications for Users and Suppliers
Unauthorized use of nitrous oxide now carries potential fines, community service, or warnings. Repeat offenders face a maximum prison sentence of two years, while manufacturing or supplying for illicit use can result in up to fourteen years of imprisonment. However, health experts express concerns that criminalizing the drug might deter users from seeking medical help.
Regulating Nitrous Oxide: Balancing Control and Legitimate Use
Despite the ban, nitrous oxide can still be purchased for industrial purposes like whipping cream. Buyers must prove lawful possession and demonstrate no intent for psychotropic use. The government emphasizes that suppliers and producers turning a blind eye to potential misuse would be in violation of the law.
Education and Prevention
As part of their mandated health education, students are educated on both legal and illicit drugs, including the risks associated with them. The UK government has released a teacher training module on drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use, collaborating with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to ensure access to quality instructional materials.
Editor: Marina Ramzy Mourid
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